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Women in the UK workforce have made great strides towards equality, as shown by the country’s rise to the seventh place on the Women’s Workplace Equity Index from the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to its focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), the UK insurance industry is a good place for pushing boundaries and breaking glass ceilings. Insurance Business UK’s 63 Elite Women in 2022 are known not only for their standout professional performance and ongoing commitment to DE&I, volunteering and charity work, but also their dedication to ultimately achieving full gender equity in the workplace.
“I think that whilst the past year has been challenging for all, there is a shift in the insurance industry to get more women in senior leadership roles than there has been in the past”
Nousheen Hassan, Innovative Risk & Audit Solutions
“I think that whilst the past year has been challenging for all, there is definitely more of a shift in the insurance industry to get more women in senior leadership roles than there has been in the past,” says Nousheen Hassan, director at Innovative Risk & Audit Solutions and one of this year’s Elite Women. The business owner and full-time working mother says that “the emphasis on diversity and inclusion in general across the globe and a push from local regulators has meant that firms are now realising that more women need to be in leadership positions, and they need to actively demonstrate this”. In addition, she says, new hybrid working situations help facilitate childcare arrangements for both women and men.
Another winner is Melissa Collett, professional standards director at the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), and a strong advocate for transparency in insurance. Collett agrees with Hassan’s assessment of women taking on more senior roles. “At the CII, we even had a period recently when our president, chair and CEO were all women. Given that there were previously only a handful of female past presidents of CII and no previous female CEOs, this is a real milestone for the profession,” she says.
However, women are still underrepresented at the executive level of the largest companies. To address this, the 25x25 organisation is focused on increasing the number of female CEOs to 25 by 2025 at FTSE 100 companies, and the 30% Club has made major advancements at large UK companies.
Another winner, Donna Scully, is joint owner and director at Carpenters Group. She left school at 16, moved from Dublin, Ireland to England at 20 without a job and – although she had no degree – attended night school to study law and qualify as a solicitor in 1995. She agrees that when it comes to equality, there’s still a lot of ground to cover. “Gender parity is still very much an issue and it’s important that we keep this at the forefront of our agenda,” she says. “There is no doubt that formal and informal sponsorship programmes to address unconscious bias are great ways of doing this, but we also need to inspire our future women leaders and more importantly, open the minds of those making the decisions.”
“It is only with determination and confidence that more women will succeed in achieving the senior ranks of the profession”
Melissa Collett, Chartered Insurance Institute
Contributions to DE&I and volunteer and charity work were essential criteria in the Elite Women competition this year.
For Hassan, that means working with iCAN and the Women in Insurance Network and participating in Dive In, the festival for diversity and inclusion in insurance. She was also a member of the QBE committee that promoted women’s participation across the business in risk and compliance. As a volunteer, she has worked with iEngage and the Commonwealth Business Women’s network as well as informally and formally coached individuals in teams which she has managed or been affiliated with. She has also served as chair of a youth charity board.
Meanwhile, Collett says, “I greatly enjoyed being a volunteer mentor of the 30% Club. I am also proud to be a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Insurers, which promotes professionalism, fellowship and philanthropy within the insurance sector and beyond. It has hitherto had few female members, but through the efforts of a number of women – and men – in the livery company, female membership has grown to around 25% of the total.”
Scully has always been focused on DE&I and done significant work in the local community and with charities over the years. “More recently, a lot my focus has been in the business, weaving our D&I priorities into our culture, benefits, pay, and workplace policies, and of course, this all overlaps into the communities in which we operate,” she says. “I am well aware of the clear link between diverse talent and improved business results, but supporting a DE&I agenda is important to me because I know it’s the right thing to do.”
Furthermore, she volunteers at a local homelessness and foodbank charity, helps local schools with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and has worked with mental health charities as well. “Supporting grassroots charities is incredibly important to me, whether that be volunteering, fundraising or through donations,” she says. “This sentiment also runs through my business and our people. I am really conscious of how badly COVID has impacted charities and am constantly looking at ways to better support them.”
“My advice is to not live your life looking to win awards. Live it being your true self, fighting for what you believe in, and doing your very best at all times”
Donna Scully, Carpenters Group
In addition to celebrating the industry’s female leaders, the Elite Women awards seek to inspire other women to do their best. What do this year’s winners have to say to other women in the profession?
“Go out and do something different,” says Hassan. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for initiatives and do not underestimate how capable you are. You can bring a different perspective to ideas, teams, leadership roles and so it’s about being confident and facilitating the shift through your own actions. Have the confidence and believe in yourself. You can do absolutely anything you want if you truly put your mind to it.”
Collett agrees with that sentiment. “I would definitely say, ‘Go for it!’” she says. “It is only with determination and confidence that more women will succeed in achieving the senior ranks of the profession.”
Meanwhile, Scully has a slightly different take. “My advice is to not live your life looking to win awards,” she says. “Live it being your true self, fighting for what you believe in and doing your very best at all times. I was taught very early on in life to treat others as you wish to be treated – a simple but great mantra. I hope that I have been chosen because of the good I bring to the table, for being a mindful human being and not because I had a desire to be perceived in a particular way.”
Insurance Business UK invited insurance professionals from across the region to nominate exceptional female leaders for the fourth Elite Women list. Nominees had to be working in a role that related to, interacted with or in some way impacted the insurance industry. They must also have demonstrated a clear passion for their profession.
Nominators were asked to describe the nominee’s standout professional achievements over the past 12 months, along with their contributions to diversity and inclusion in the industry and how they’ve given back through volunteer roles and charity work. Recommendations from managers and senior industry professionals were also considered.
The IBUK team reviewed all nominations, examining how each individual had made a meaningful contribution to the industry, to narrow down the list to the final 63 Elite Women.